Tucker expects to Ireland Under-20s to be tested by experienced Scotland team
Trinity prop Clarkson is the only Irish survivor from team that started last year’s win
Thomas Clarkson: one of five players who played a part in last year’s Under-20 Grand Slam. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho.
Dublin University tighthead prop Thomas Clarkson is the sole survivor from the starting Ireland team that beat Scotland 24-5 at Netherdale in last season’s Under-20 Six Nations Championship. Secondrow Brian Deeney and number eight David McCann came off the bench that night. Hooker John McKee, who won seven caps last season, is once again involved.
Ireland head coach Noel McNamara has named five players who played a part in last season’s Grand Slam success. Ulster academy prospect McCann, captains the team, Deeney (Wexford) and Thomas Ahern (Waterford) form a south east axis in the secondrow while Clarkson and fellow prop Charlie Ward are the twin frontrow buttresses with previous experience of this level.
The IRFU’s IQ (Irish Qualified) programme has provided three players on the team, fullback Oran McNulty (Connacht) and centres Dan Kelly and Hayden Hyde (Ulster), two of whom are now attached to provincial academies, while Kelly was initially recommended by Loughborough University’s director of rugby, Ger Mullen, whom McNamara previously coached at Clongowes.
McNulty forms part of an exciting back three that includes Ethan McIlroy, who has already played senior rugby for Ulster and Clontarf prospect Andrew Smith on the other wing. Jack Crowley and Lewis Finlay impressed in a game against a Munster Development team while hooker Tom Stewart is a player with huge potential.
Flankers Sean O’Brien (UCD) and Mark Hernan (Lansdowne), who captained St Michael’s to a Senior Cup triumph last year, will form part of an athletic and mobile backrow that contains the outstanding McCann.
Scotland retain six of the starting team from last season’s game against Ireland – 12 of the matchday 23 have played in the Six Nations previously – centre Robbie McCallum, wing John Blain, scrumhalf Roan Frostwick, hooker Ewan Ashman, secondrow Cameron Henderson and last year’s captain, flanker Connor Boyle. The New Zealand-born former Scotland centre Sean Lineen has taken over the coaching reins of a playing group that won a Five Nations title at Under-18 level.
Uniformity in style
Ireland forwards’ coach Colm Tucker is looking forward to his first Six Nations having come on board ahead of last season’s Under-20 World Cup. His previous experience at Irish Under-18 and Under-19 levels means that he is well versed with the current playing group.
The Scots have pushed the idea of a playing uniformity in style from their underage sides, right up to the senior team. Tucker said: “I think we are going to see an expansive team who are going to try and put width on the game, so we have to be ready for them testing us on the fringes. But the most important thing at this stage is on ourselves.
“Our footage of Scotland is at a minimum. So the emphasis is on getting our own drills right, our head space right. Our energy, our attitude – that is what we are focusing on at the moment. The lads are in the best place to perform.”
Despite a small crossover in personnel, last season’s Grand Slam triumph hasn’t really got much an airing amongst the group. Tucker admitted: “We are putting all our stock in performance. Result is an outcome of that.
“Our real focus is around those zero talent elements. You know how quick are they off the ground? What is their energy like? What is their body language like? If we get those elements right, if we come out of the blocks, the result for me – I know it’s a cliché – but it takes care of itself.
“It is the flagship (age-grade) team but they are still all developing, they are still young. We have to keep an eye on the competitive nature of it but we also have to acknowledge these lads are still growing, still developing into what will be professional rugby for them in a couple of years for them. The result side of it is really paramount to them.”
IRELAND UNDER-20: O McNulty (Corinthians); E McIlroy (QUB), D Kelly (Loughborough University), H Hayden (Ballynahinch), A Smith (Clontarf); J Crowley (Cork Constitution), L Finlay (Malone); C Ward (Clontarf), T Stewart (Ballynahinch), T Clarkson (Dublin University); T Ahern (Shannon), B Deeney (Clontarf); S O’Brien (UCD), M Hernan (Lansdowne), D McCann (Banbridge, capt).
Replacements: J McKee (Old Belvedere), C Ryan (Cashel), R McMahon (Old Belvedere), J McCarthy (Dublin University), A Soroka (Dublin University), B Murphy (Clontarf), T Corkery (Lansdowne), L Faria (Dublin University).